By Chaim Shapiro
Question: My daughter is in her second year in Israel this year. We are proud of how she has grown and what she has accomplished in her time abroad, but we keep trying to tell her that it is time she decides what she wants to do when she comes home. Whenever my husband and I broach the “career” subject, she simply says that she has absolutely no idea. She does not seem to be worried, as she claims many of her friends are also unsure. They all plan to “figure it out” when they return after the school year.
We don’t want her to wait. We want her to make a decision soon so she can start making plans to reach her career goals. What can we do to help our daughter? Is there a test she can take to help her gain clarity? Is there anything else we can do to help her decide?
Answer: Thank you so much — I have been waiting for this question!
First of all, what your daughter is experiencing is completely normal. Career choice is a major decision. It can be quite intimidating to choose a career that will likely span more than 40 years.
Let me share a little secret. I have been working in career services and with private clients for more than 11 years. Often the students who claim to know what career they want to pursue are even more confused than those who say they have no idea!
That may sound counterintuitive, but it really makes a lot of sense. Frequently, children and young adults make career decisions based on what other people tell them. When I was growing up, people used to always tell me that I have the “gift of gab” (fact check: true) and should become a lawyer.
People mean well, and they believe they are helping with their career suggestions, but the problem is that often those suggestions are far off base. I do have some talent when it comes to communication, but I never had any interest in becoming a lawyer.
At least a couple of times a year, I see students or clients who have completed their degrees but confide in me that they really have no interest in pursuing that profession. More often than not, it was a parent or a close confidant who convinced them to choose a career that is not right for them.
The opposite is also true. Well-intentioned folks frequently discourage people from pursuing their real career goals. At one point I wanted to become a public-school teacher, but everyone around me advised that I was making a poor decision.
As a result, I dropped the idea halfway through my senior year in college. Was that the right decision? I will never really know. There is no point to playing the “what if” game, but occasionally I think how I could have completed 21 out of 25 years toward earning my pension had I become a teacher.
Regarding your daughter, yes, there are some tests that people can take, but I usually only advise them as a last resort. Standardized tests are too uniform to capture the qualities of individuals.
I would recommend that your daughter meet with an experienced career counselor who can assist her in understanding her skills and interests. I believe that most people have a basic idea of their interests and skills, but are often afraid to express them either because of fear of disapproval or the belief that there are only a limited number of career options for Orthodox Jews. (I once made a batch of T-shirts that read “OT, PT, or Special Ed?” so that men could avoid the first question on shidduch dates.)
A qualified career counselor could help your daughter flesh out her skills and interests and relate them to career options. There are Orthodox people in just about every profession. There is no need to limit her options.
People like quick answers, so beware of career counselors (or life coaches) who offer quick fixes or solutions. Good career counselors should present options and resources for research, but the decision must always belong to the client.
When clients ask me if they should pursue a career in X or Y, I always tell them there is no way I can know that. We can and do discuss those options, but the decision is ultimately theirs. In the end, no one knows them as well as they know themselves.
I keep a Magic 8 Ball in my desk. Occasionally when I meet a student who continually asks me if s/he should try a number of different careers (should I be a lawyer, accountant, or doctor) I take out the 8 Ball and tell them to ask it for its advice.
The point is that there are no magic answers, and the advice of the 8 Ball is just as legitimate as mine (although one client once asked the 8 Ball if he should become an accountant and looked at me in frustration, saying, “It says ‘results are unclear.’ What do I do now?”)
Don’t worry. Your daughter’s dilemma is very common. It is good that you are being proactive. I think you should encourage your daughter to meet with a qualified career counselor and start discovering herself and finding some answers. It may take time, but chances are she will be able to identify potential career options. Just be open to her pursuing reasonable options you may not have considered.
Chaim Shapiro, M. Ed. is the director of the Office for Student Success at Touro College, a freelance writer, public speaker, and social-media consultant specializing in LinkedIn. Chaim earned a master’s degree in college student personnel from Loyola University, Chicago, and also studied in the Institutional Leadership and Policy Studies Ph.D. program at the University of California, Riverside Graduate School of Education. Send your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet them @chaimshapiro.